Scandalizing the "Weaker" Brother

Salvete, omnes!

How far are we to go to not scandalize the “weaker” brother, as described by the Apostle Paul in his letters?

I’m particularly thinking of one instance in which he says that, while “we” know that eating meat sacrificed to idols is not sinful, there are those who are “weaker” who think it is sinful and that, therefore, it is sin to them. In this case, he advises that others do not meat sacrificed to idols so that it might not cause those who are weaker and who believe it sin also to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

This, to me, seems a very unique case of causing scandal and doesn’t even seem to be dealt with in the Catechism under the heading of “scandal”, which is interesting, though I’ve seen it addressed in other Catholic publications.

So, is my understanding of Paul’s words in the passage I cited above correct? So, then, if we are doing something that is not sinful but, if someone else thinks it is, are we still always to avoid doing this thing no matter what it is if there is even the slightest chance of causing another to stumble, again, even though our action, we know, is not sinful?

Or, rather, is some prudence (as is common) advised here? Must the someone only be “likely” to be drawn into what he considers to be sin by our non-sinful action before we should stop doing it? If thsi is the case, how “likely” must this be and how can we always know how likely it will be?

Furthermore, let us say that we are doing something that is, in Catholicism, completely innocent/not sinful, but that is considered sinful within a sect of Protestantism or even within another religion? Would the sin of “scandal” be charged to us if we still did this catholically ( now it’s a word :wink: ) non-sinful thing? Also, what if something we’re doing which is not deemed sinfl by the Church even offends someone’s morality who is not necessarily even “religious”? Are we not do do the non-sinful thing if it might cause anyone of any religion/sect/moral persuasion to fall into what he/she considers sin? Or, rather, are we only to avoid this action if we know someone of that religion/sect/moral persuasion who might be caused to stumble? (I am speaking here of both religious and non-religious/less directly religious activities.)

Back to more general examples, religious or not…:

Another possibility might be that we have definitely to know that there is a someone within our sphere of influence who most definitely is “weaker” in that he/she has already fallen into what he/she considers the “sin” of what we are doing before, ind oing what we are doing, it can be considered scandal. In this case, we are not held accountable by God if we do not definitely know that there is someone who is definitely weak in a particular area which is not sinful but which the weaker brother or sister thinks is sinful. Is this a valid interpretation? Agree? Disagree? Why?

OK, so, now, let’s get down to particular scanarios:

  1. Are we scandalizing all the Amish by using modern technologies? What if they should desire to do these things even though they consider them sinful? What if we don’t directly know/have contact with Amis people? What if we simply live in some proximity to them? What if we don’t live anywhere near them?

  2. Should we continue to eat meat even though we might cause vegans/vegetarians (whether Christian/Catholic or not) to stumble into that which they consider sinful? Even if we don’t know anyone directly, should we cease toe at meat? What if we do have someone in our sphere of influence who is vegan/vegetarian (Christian/Catholic or not)?

  3. Same question goes for alcohol.

  4. Now, here is one very particular to my own situation: I am a classicist/Latinist by training. Therefore, I have an interest in Graeco-Roman culture/language/literature, most of which is written by pagan writers, though I think that, filtered through a Christian lens, of course, there is something even to be learned from these works and there is beauty to be appreciated in them. I think studying these cultures also helps us to have not only greater understanding/empathy for them but also similar understanding/empathy for people in modern times. I am even licensed to teach Latin/the classics. However, I am sure that there are those out there who would consider what I do at the least morally questionable if not outright sinful for a number of reasons such as the pagan nature of the civilization I study, its tendency toward violence, its killing of Christ and persecution of Christians, etc. I suspect that there may even be those in my sphere of influence who consider this, if not outright sinful, at least rather morally questionable. However, I don’t believe that it is very likely that any of these people would suddenly take up classics, given that they may have negative views toward it. Still, that possibility just might exist, right? Would I or would I not, then, be charged with the sin of scandal if I persist in studying and even making a career of the classics?

I am interested in both the general questions on this matter as well as responses to the above specific examples.

Gratias vobis.

I don’t think this is someone a guy can possibly worry about in modern times. I mean no one could then do anything because I am sure you will always be able to find someone who is convinced you are sinning because a woman is riding a bicycle or a guy is in ballet. Look, the point is that we no longer live in a time when people are likely to be put in moral jeopardy just because we are doing something a bit different from them (and when was the last time you at meat sacrificed to idols?).

In your case with reading pagan writing it would be ridiculous to worry about that offending someone because that would mean not only the entirety of pre-Christian history would have to be off-limits, but then so would all other religious writing of any kind because not everyone agrees with everyone else.

So I’d really not worry about this stuff because as long as you are not doing anything with the express purpose of scandalizing someone it is just fine to carry on and do your thing.

That is because in the culture at large, there aren’t any religions that prescribe sacrificing to idols and then consuming the sacrifice. Because this had specific religious overtones and implications, Christians avoided it because it was so offensive to the Jewish religion and culture from which the first Christians came. It was akin to participating in the pagan ritual itself.

We still do not participate in non-Catholic religious ceremonies. So, yes, it is covered in Catholicism, but of course the particulars have changed.


Yes, it is a prudential judgment.


The Amish do not believe modern technology to be sinful. You misunderstand the Amish and their reasons for not using certain technologies and the particular Ordung of various communities, which is analogous to Catholic canon law.

This is not an example of scandal.

Same answer.

You see scandal where there is none. Perhaps you are unaware that Catholic universities teach and study the classics?

In Catholicism, we do believe in absolute morals. So one doesn’t need to consider things that are obviously not sinful such as using modern technology. The issue with eating sacrificed meat isn’t that it would lead others to believe it is sinful to eat the meat. It isn’t sinful to eat the meat so that isn’t the problem. The problem is that by eating the meat, it also give the impression that you are participating in the idol worship. Idol worship is definitely a sin, so that’s why it’s an example of scandal.

A more modern example would be the couples who move in together prior to marriage. They may have decided to remain chaste until their wedding day, but to the outside observer, it appears they are living as man and wife and unless the couple has been really open with everyone they meet about their sex life, it is going to be assumed that they are fornicating. I hope that makes sense.

So, as far as your examples go, we don’t have to worry about using modern technology around the Amish because doing so isn’t a sin. (PS- I’m not sure that the Amish even consider it a sin as much as a temptation to be too wordly.) The same goes for eating meat, as it is not a sin to do so. Drinking could be scandalous depending on the situation. It’s not a sin in and of itself to drink, however, if you are drinking with others who are becoming drunk and engaging in boorish behavior, you could be causing scandal. In regards to studying the classics, I don’t see how this could cause scandal. Studying the humanities of another culture certainly doesn’t imply approval of everything that culture did!

In a one-on-one situation I might modify something for the sake of the person I’m with. For example, if I knew someone was an alcoholic and we were at dinner together, I would likely refrain from ordering an alcoholic beverage even though alcohol for me is not a problem.

But would I stop drinking entirely for fear of causing a problem for some random person? No.

I think it would be impossible to meet some standard of never doing anything that someone else might have a religious or moral disagreement with and you’d probably end up with a major case of scruplosity and be deeply unhappy trying to meet some impossible standard.

That’s a little different from what the OP proposes, because you aren’t avoiding drinks out of morality, but out of courtesy.

Well, for me it would be both. Because I would realize that if I drank that my friend would be tempted and so morally I should not drink around that person.

Here we go again. Another multi-page debate between misty and herself.

Misty, the more you have these debates with yourself, the more I’m going to say that you are either being scrupulous (seeing sin everywhere) or being inordinately impressed with yourself (and your supposed ability to see these deep concepts no one else sees, which does not make you brilliant).

That’s a pretty unkind post. Not sure how you think that would be helpful to Misty or anyone, or how that represents Christian charity?

There are 3 other people (not including yourself) involved in this thread. Our participating nullifies your suggestion that Misty is debating herself.

Salvete chumps!

I’ve posted in the past that Misty’s posts come across as “I’m very impressed by my brilliance; I post about things no one else thinks about; I’m a classicist; my motto is some unpronounceable symbol, etc.” That rubs a lot of people the wrong way. The fact that you actually engage her, in my opinion, isn’t debating so much as it’s feeding her trolling. The fact that you find my post unkind, candidly, bothers me not one whit.

If you read through all of the OP’s posts, PolarGuy’s conclusions are not unreasonable.



PolarGuy has accused me of these kinds of things on more than one occasion, and, now, apparently, others are doing the same.

Let me say, with the clearest of conscience, that I have no desire to “sound smarter” than anyone else on here, or anything else of which eh and others have accused me. This is the way I write. This is the way I think. It may be unusual, but that’s the way it is. Indeed, I have often felt quite lonely because I think in this way and so few others seem to and, as some have here, take it as something that it’s not, and others simply can’t understand it. I think deeply. I’m not being vain when I say this; my conscience is clear. I ask many questions, yes. I ask involved questions, yes, because, for me, these kinds of issues are quite complex and need a lot of fleshing out. I am highly analytical, yes. I may, indeed, even be a bit “aspie” about these kinds of things (though never officially diagnosed). Even so, I would ask that PolarGuy and others respect how I think, respect how I write, respect my analytical nature and, most importantly, respect that I have legitimate questions/concerns when I write my posts. My mode of expression may be unusual and may come off as this or that, but, again, my conscience is clear, my motives are pure. And, yes, I admit, I take just a little offense at suggestions to the contrary. Sometimes, I think we all are too quick to judge one another’s motives based on appearances. I would appreciate it if, in future, and both with me and others, you, PolarGuy, and those like you, would at least be a bit more tactful in how you approach people like myself. I mean, it’s fine to assume motive based on external evidence that would seem to support it, but, if you do, at least say something like, “I think you are being so-and-so”. Don’t automatically assume you are correct.

This is hopefully all I will have to say on the matter. Let us try to remain on topic in threads like these in the fture.

Let me first say that this is by far the best response I have received to my initial post thus far. Very cogently/clearly argued and responding point-by-point to the issues I raised. To my mind, this is the best approach to furthering a discussion like this – point-by-point, point and counterpoint. Also, you provide a lot of fact-based statements to back up your assertions. You really did lend so much insight to this topic.

All right…

My only question here is, how can we be sure that Paul’s prescription concerning not eating meat sacrificed to idols should not, in principle, be applied in a more general way, even to non/less-religious matters? Could this not be a specific application of a more general principle regarding scandal? And, again, ifa general principle is to be found here, what is that and how fr must we take it?

Again, not trying with malice to challenge your assertion. Again, just trying to flesh it out and to make sure all bases are covered.

This actually raises another question I have had concerning scandal and social media.

So, I’m pretty sure that I have other Protestant followers of mine both on Twitter and on Facebook who may not agree with any of my consumption of alcohol (mainly wine). So, would it be wrong of me, even if I’m not 100% sure that it would cause one of these to sin, to post a status message something like: “Sitting out on the back patio sipping a glass of wine,” to my followers which would include them?

All right. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to address this one more specifically.

First of all, I am not trolling. Why would I spend so much time coming up with all this deep analysis, etc. if I were only doing so to troll? Why would I, frankly, waste so much time if my motives were not sincere?

Secondly, yes, I do, in fact, know about rather more obscure subjects and I do think on rather obscure points, but that does not necessarily mean I am posting these here simply to demonstrate my “brilliance”. Do you really think I am so insecure as to seek approval for my so-called “brilliance” in such an elaborate way?

You must truly think that I am the ultimate, most egoistic and insecure person on the planet to draw such conclusions from what/how I’ve been posting here. While, yes, I do sometimes struggle with pride issues (most academic/bookish people do to varying degrees!), I am not that horrible a person and it stuns me to no end to realize that there are some out there who would think me to be so.

First, as to scrupulousness, I don’t think I “see sin everywhere”. I have here and elsewhere made very few blanket assertions that this or that is sinful. What I do is try to make sure, in most cases, that it, in fct, is NOT! I take the other side of the argument to make sure that my/our side is strong [enough]. That’s just the way I approach issues, as I think it is most effective, even though it may sometimes be mistaken to be somehow combative or whatever. Combativeness is never what I am going for in posts like these.

Again, I don’t typically like to spend this much of a thread going off-topic and responding to these kinds of things, but I feel that accusations against/misconceptions about me are becoming far too frequent for me utterly to ignore. I feel that my side deserves a fair hearing. (Goodness, I’ve even thought of starting a whole new thread, say, on the Back Fence or something, explaining where I’m coming from/my approach to admittedly sometimes obscure issues.)

Yes, some of the issues I raise are quite obscure, but that doesn’t mean that I am posting them simply to show some kind of “brilliance”. It only means that I think about them and am genuinely curious as to what others think about them. Indeed, I have very often spent a great deal of time agonizing over these issues before I’ve even posted on them! (I think this is why my posts may perhaps seem over-analytical.)

I do hope your heart and the hearts of others have become at least a bit softer in regard to where I’m coming from now, as mine has increasingly become toward you as I write this post and see that there may be some genuine misconceptions out there about me.

Then I would have to say I don’t think it’s Misty that has the problem. As a Catholic, on a Catholic forum, you and the rest of us are called to Christian charity regardless of who we choose to engage in discourse. Neither your first post, nor this one, contain any Christian charity. If Misty annoys you so much, ignore her posts instead of trying to offend her and anyone who is engaging her in a civil discussion which you clearly want no part of since you aren’t behaving civilly.

AKDee, a lot of people seem to confuse “behaving with Christian charity” with “being a milquetoasty wuss who won’t say anything that someone else doesn’t like for fear of offending them.” That attitude is all over this board.

Also, if you want me to ignore misty, why isn’t is equally valid for me to tell you to just ignore me?

Because the Church does not teach that about this passage AND this passage does not stand in isolation to other passages in the bible that make it clear that the church was asking its members to refrain from meat not out of sin but out of discipline. We know that Jesus taught it was not what goes in the mouth that is unclean. We know St Peter’s vision. We know St Peter’s teaching. We know the debate that took place to arrive at the minimal disciplines set out in Acts.

So, in other words-- we do not live by one verse of the bible alone. We live by a totality of teaching, given to us in the deposit of faith and transmitted faithfully in the lived experience of the Church.


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